Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Myth of the Supremacy of the Individual

The industrial Revolution spawned the organized production of things that provided material improvement to the state of human existence and the possibility of making profit and generating wealth within a monetary-based system of human commerce. This new reality ultimately transformed the very nature of human relationship and, therefore, human society. It was around these industries that large urban centers became the hubs of commerce.

Once the infrastructure was created to efficiently enhance production, mass production soon became a reality. Those early entrepreneurs who were able to finance nascent industries amassed huge fortunes. It was this kind of wealth that translated into enormous power and influence.

The mass production of commodities that substantially improved individual lives required the expenditure of massive amounts of energy and natural resources, generally at the expense of the natural environment. Since these industries were so lucrative for the few, it necessarily helped create a tiered class system in which wealth accumulated in the hands of a very few, and initiated the creation of laws specifically designed to protect this wealth and insure the codification of rules to facilitate further production.

Pre-industrial societies were generally structured around agrarian communities where the commons was the center of human interaction. Within such communities, the necessity for cooperative effort was clearly understood. Without this elemental acceptance of shared existence, community life would cease and human civilization fracture.

The industrial revolution changed all of this; because, the focus was shifted from the community to the individual. The nature of work itself was transformed. Where labor was once understood to be a means to achieve obvious communal goals such as providing the essential ingredients for sustaining life, it soon became a commodity to be exploited by the corporate class as the primary means of production of things.

Once labor saving devices became available to the many through mass production, communal activity for the common good seemed less necessary and the attention moved away from community and towards the individual. In the present era the individual has become supreme and the primary concern of each person is now one of achieving personal happiness and fulfillment even at the expense of the greater good. Achieving personal happiness is generally understood as being synonymous with the accumulation of material goods. Competition for these goods has created a social environment that is often described as “dog eat dog.”

We have seen what this transformation has wrought. In modern industrial societies, making profit is the essential motivation for human activity. This conception has worked its way into every aspect of human life including, care of the sick, the elderly and the dying, education, recreation, entertainment, food production, etc. Maximizing profits has become the mantra of daily living. For this reason, the natural environment is currently in a perilous condition. For this reason hunger and starvation is running rampant where the problem is not one of producing enough food for everyone but the accessibility of sufficient nutrition. For this reason, the war industries and their desire for profit has spread the use of weapons of mass destruction around the globe. For this reason, modern life for the many has become exceedingly stressful and filled with anxiety and dread regarding not only the present but the future.

The concept of the supremacy of the individual is essentially a bankrupt idea, for it necessarily leads to a serious imbalance in the distribution of wealth, an excessive and mindless exploitation of both human and natural resources at the expense of the common good and promotes the fallacy of infinite possibility within the confines of a finite world. The full realization of such an ideology would, by necessity, lead to a disastrous end for human civilization.

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